Lightning Guard Kyle Johnson
Entering their battle against Windsor on Saturday night, the Lightning were in search of their 16th victory in a row at Budweiser Gardens. A long and tough 7 days for London competing for a fourth occasion, with a division rival saved for last in the visiting Express. The Lightning had just come off of a nail biter versus the Saint John Riptide Wednesday evening. The top team from the Atlantic Division gave the bolts all that they could handle, only to fall short 124-119. At the other end of the court, Windsor was fresh off of a collective beat down of the Orangeville A’s 24 hours prior, 139-118. Considering that the previous matchup between the Lightning and the Express was a gritty, physical, and a close affair. The anticipation of what this game had in store kept the packed Gardens in a frenzy right up until the final buzzer.
This game started slowly and the result was low scoring in the first quarter. Early on, with the game was tied, London seemed being unable to put any distance between them and the upstart team from Windsor, despite the fact that the Lightning were shooting almost 60% in the first frame. The offence would eventually begin to roll for both teams to close out the first quarter with London leading 27-19. Leading the charge for the visiting Express was forward Juan Pattillo, who had managed to obtain a double-double (15 points and 10 rebounds) by the midway mark of the second quarter. Not to be outdone, the home side had a strong spark from guard Kyle Johnson out of Long Island University who poured in a solid 11 points before the half was over. With aggressive defence by London forcing turnovers and poor shooting by Windsor to round out the half, it allowed the Lightning lead to reach 57-44 by the break. A slow and deflated Express leaving the court, gave the impression that the contest was practically over, anyone who doesn’t know NBL Canada basketball.
The funny thing about sports, especially basketball, is that momentum is mammoth. It can swing in either direction and in the process change the outcome of a game in a blink of an eye. The slow locomotive from Windsor with poor shooting, all of a sudden became high tempo with lights out precision. The Express poured in 40 points in the third quadrant of the contest alone, making it a brand new ballgame by narrowing the gap to one point, ending the third quarter trailing the Lightning 85-84. To the naked eye it appeared that London was not playing well enough to remain in the lead, have gave up 40 points on defence in the quarter, but they did not shoot poorly themselves, they just couldn’t slow down the Express. In fact, Windsor kept rolling to take the lead at the beginning the fourth quarter. The lead changed hands several times, supplying plenty of anxious moments, controversial calls, and the obligatory foul strategy late to try and extend the game by the trailing team. In the end, it was too many to not enough in favour of the Lightning. London’s Royce White, in his return to the lineup from suspension scored 26 points, and Kyle Johnson adding 24 points, the win overshadowed the outstanding 32 points and 20 rebounds performance by Windsor’s Juan Pattillo. In the end, the Lightning were once again victorious over their Southwestern Ontario rivals 117-113.
London with 5 games left in the regular season, the latest victory gives the Lightning 1st place overall in the league, guaranteeing home court advantage if hosting the finals. Having already clinched 1st place in the division and a playoff berth many moons ago, the guys from the Gardens will try to enter the playoffs on a roll, and send a message to Windsor and the rest of the NBL, that the path to a championship will have to go through London and it will not be easy. Next up: a game in Kitchener-Waterloo against the Titans Sunday afternoon, before hosting them Wednesday night, as they try to hunt down the 17th win in a row at Budweiser Gardens.